School enrollment task force weighs Ottoson vs. Gibbs options

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Architect presented Ottoson, Gibbs options at Town Hall

UPDATED, May 1: About 50 people attended a Town Hall meeting of the School Enrollment Task Force on Thursday, April 28, and heard a variety of comments, including a fervent plea from the head of the Arlington Center for the Arts, which would be among those displaced if the vote favors renovation.

How the vote goes will not depend only on money, though that will be a factor. Two reports from Cambridge architect HMFH conclude that renovations to the former Gibbs would cost less than the Ottoson option.

The Gibbs feasibility-study estimates construction costs at $16.6 million. Adding a 20-percent factor for soft costs (design, investigation, testing, etc.), the estimated total project cost is $19.9 million.

Ottoson, Gibbs cost estimates

For the Ottoson project, HMFH says construction cost would be $19 million. With 20 percent for the same soft costs, the estimated total project cost is $22.8 million.

Read both reports here as well as the April 28 presentation >> 

Before Lori Cowles of HMFH presented, Charles Foskett, a member of the task force and vice chair of the Finance Committee, wanted to know why the School Committee had voted in favor of the Gibbs option April 14 when the final vote about that is to be May 2. He cited a April 21 report in The Advocate. (YourArlington reported the April 14 vote the same evening it was taken.

Jennifer Susse, the School Committee chair, explained that the committee voted showed favor toward the Gibbs option for educational reasons only. The May 2 vote will consider all aspects, including costs.

Cowles described highlights of the two last options to deal with enrollment issues that have roiled Arlington since August.

An Ottoson addition, 30 feet from the current building, would include two bridges connecting at the Blue Gym level. Students would then go up two floors using stairs or an elevator.

The addition would not trigger code upgrades at the existing building as feared, she said.

Some Gibbs renovation details

The former Gibbs involves renovating a three-story 1928 building and a two-story 1973 addition. It is 70,000 square feet with 54 parking spaces. She said the older building is in better shape than the newer one; the latter needs new a roof and windows.

She said the drainage issues with the building that leads to flooding during hard rains has in part to do with maintenance and with an odd setup that routes drained water under the structure rather than away from it. She said renovation can address that setup.

On the plus side, keeping down renovation costs is the fact that the former Gibbs was designed as a school building in the first place.

Asked what Arlington is getting in terms of program space when comparing both options, Cowles called them "very similar."

From 7:36 p.m. until 9, Cowles took questions, first from officials and then the audience.

Foskett asked about construction timing for Ottoson and was told it will be "complicated."

Oil tank, access

Selectman Joseph Curro Jr. asked about the oil tank at Gibbs, and Cowles said it is empty, closed in its own room and is not in the ground.

School Committee member Cindy Starks asked how a sixth grader in a wheelchair gets in a new building, and was told that elevators would serve both buildings.

Asked about portables, Superintendent Kathleen Bodie said an addition would take longer to complete, and modular classrooms would be needed for two years.

Starks asked whether costs for modulars are included in the HMFH estimates, and Bodie said they were not.

Stuart Cleinman, a Precinct 1 Town Meeting member, asked whether pipes would have to be replaced because of lead. Cowles responded that such work was done in the early 1970s. "I don't think so," she said.

In response to a query, Bodie said the breakdown between the schools would be one-third of 1,100 students at Gibbs and two-thirds at Ottoson.

Sarah Buyer, of the Center for the Arts, asked about fountains in the building that had been taken out of service. Cowles said she did not know why.

Lauren Ledger asked whether the proximity of a new Ottoson building along Appleton Place to homes would trigger a zoning issue. Cowles said schools are protected from such issues because of the Dover Amendment

Center for the Arts plea

Linda Shoemaker, executive director of the ACA, spoke at some length, noting "the reality that five organizations occupy" the former Gibbs. She made clear the value that the ACA brings to community life in Arlington.

"We do not in any way want to be in opposition" to a school project, she said, adding that she hopes the community will advocate for ACA and a final vote is known.

Among those in the audience was Jane Howard, one of the founders of the ACA.

A bit later, Susse said: "We as a town value both -- students and artists. I don’t think anyone on this room wants to leave the arts behind."

A parent said he thought the traffic around Ottoson would be a "nightmare." Others noted teacher parking would be lost in both lots for 18 months.

Foskett suggested a solution to traffic and lessening the use of modulars classes -- split classes into double sessions.

Used more often in 1960s, the method reduces crowding by half by dividing the student body into two groups -- one that attends class in the morning and the other afternoon.

Double sessions?

"I was in double sessions in junior high in Northport, N.Y., and it was great," Foskett said.

Bodie said she did not favor the idea and said the matter would have to be negotiated with the teachers' union.

Before the 7 p.m. task force meeting in Town Hall Auditorium, the School Committee met for a half hour. Among matter addressed, they:

-- Heard Susse suggest to those working on the steps preceding a June 14 vote on a debt exclusion committee to take their time;

-- Discussed when is the right time to vote on making the Ottoson option sixth grade only or sixth through eighth grades -- before or after the June 14 debt exclusion vote. "Before end of school year," Bodie said.

-- Voted unanimously to cancel the May 5 School Committee meeting and schedule the next one for May 12.

The next meeting of School Enrollment Task Force is Monday, May 2, at 7 p.m. in the Lyons Hearing Room, second floor, Town Hall. The board is expected to vote on the Gibbs or Ottoson option.

Related links

April 14, 2016: School Committee supports educational recommendation for Gibbs option

March 28, 2016: School Committee votes to express sense of urgency about enrollment moves
March 22, 2016: Long Range Planning faces debt-exclusion decisions
March 9, 2016: Task force hopes interim cost data for school options ready in a month
Nov. 15, 2014: Racism? Bodie says updated numbers show decline in out-of-school suspensions
Dec. 14, 2015: Variety of views offered as task force grapples with growth
Dec. 2, 2015: Enrollment task force holds first meeting
Oct. 11, 2015: CROWDING CRUNCH: Arts, educators, nonprofit make pitches
Sept. 28, 2015: As public-school enrollment rises, officials, public grapple with future
Space Planning Report for Arlington Public Schools," HMFH Architects, September 2015 
"Arlington Public Schools Population and Enrollment Forecasts," Dr. Jerome McKibben, McKibben Demographic Research, June 2015 
Linda Shoemaker's statement in September supporting ACA
Sept. 10 comments to School Commitee about the Gibbs by Ted Wilson
Oct. 15, 2014: Public schools' enrollment continues to rise

This announcement was published published Tuesday, April 26, 2016, and rewritten May 1, to include a news summary of the meeting.